Wednesday, January 7, 2004
Censure: strong disapproval; condemnation. To condemn as wrong. (Webster's New World dictionary)
It's interesting how a word like "censure" can come up in a public meeting.
Monday night Sunnyside City Councilman Don Vlieger made a proposal that would change the rules the city council is held to. If the rules are adopted the city council would vote to censure a council member who is more than 60 days delinquent on any Sunnyside city tax or fee or Yakima County property tax bill.
Once the censure is passed by a simple majority, the resolution of censure will become a Sunnyside City Council agenda item at every regular meeting until the bill is paid in full.
The resolution will include all known information on the delinquent bill, including to whom the bill is owed and the amount owed.
If the money is owed to the city, the council member's per meeting stipend of $40 would be withheld until the bill is paid.
According to Vlieger's presentation at Monday's meeting, the purpose of the proposed resolution is to make council members more accountable and lead by example.
I believe that making the city council accountable for their actions is important and a reasonable venture, but to publicly humiliate a fellow council member until a bill is paid is uncalled for.
The city council meeting isn't the place to continuously air a council members' public laundry. I think council members need to be held responsible for their outstanding debt, especially to the city, but to have the censure resolution on every regular council meeting agenda until it is paid is a boorish way of doing business in Sunnyside.
I see it as a deterrent to getting qualified people to run for city council for fear of one day becoming a public spectacle while face to face with constituents.
The plan is also flawed. It only looks at delinquent monies owed to the city of Sunnyside and the county. In the past, at least one of the Sunnyside City Council members has owed a large sum of money to a nearby jurisdiction. After a long legal battle, the councilman was forced to pay the money owed to the city, but the council member was still delinquent for an extended period of time prior to paying the city utility bill.
Are city council members who question their bills and don't pay them by the due date going to undergo the scrutiny of being censured?
I also question the need to have weekly city council meetings if the council has to resort to taking time to discuss a resolution of censure as a part of a regular city council meeting until a bill is paid. Does the city council have that little on the agenda that it has to take on the responsibility of policing fellow members on a regular basis?
Who will be compiling the information on each city council member from both the city and the county? To keep up on each of the council members and their monthly bills, each person would have to have their bills pulled on a weekly basis.
This amendment to the council rules seems a bit excessive.
What's next? Is the council going to pull all of the city employees bills to see if they have been paying their water, sewer and garbage bills in a timely fashion?
Are they going to try to suspend employees for not paying their bills?
Where does it end, at public flogging in Centennial Square? We might as well hang a large scarlet 'IOU' from their necks and make them bare the shame of falling on hard times.
. Melissa Browning can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or e-mail email@example.com